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The Beautiful Relationship We Have in Christ

September 28, 2023

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from the Ephesians Bible Companion


In 62 A.D., four men left Rome, traveling east to modern Turkey. Tucked in their satchels, each carried a letter written by a Roman prisoner waiting to appear before the emperor. These four letters are in the Word of God, called the “Prison Epistles of Paul.”

  • Epaphroditus, from Philippi, carried home the Epistle to the Philippians (see Philippians 4:18).
  • Tychicus, from Ephesus, brought his city the Epistle to the Ephesians (see Ephesians 6:21).
  • Epaphras, from Colosse, had the Epistle to the Colossians in his bag (see Colossians 4:12).
  • Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colosse, hand carried the Epistle to Philemon addressed to his master (see Philemon 1:10).

These letters present a composite picture of Jesus Christ, the church, the Christian life, and how they interact together.

  • Ephesians presents the body of Christ, the invisible church.
  • Colossians presents Jesus as the Head of this body, the church.
  • Philippians presents how to live a dynamic Christian life with Christ as your strength.
  • Philemon presents Christian living in action in a pagan society.

The gospel walked in shoe leather in the first century, and it was working.

But Ephesians—this glorious letter tells us how the body of Christ is God’s masterpiece. The church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and more wonderful than any temple made with hands. As God’s children, we are built with living stones, that’s the Holy Spirit living in us. As His body, we are to walk as Jesus would walk and not give in to the devil’s strategies. And someday, God knows when, we will be presented to Christ as a bride.

Ephesus was the leading church (of seven) in Turkey. From this base, Paul founded the church and began a far-reaching ministry.

The gospel had its greatest entrance in Ephesus, second only to Rome in this part of the Roman Empire. In that day, millions lived here, at the heart of the Empire. East and west met in Ephesus. It was a cultural center, a religious center, had a great climate, and was a vacation destination spot.

Picture the Apostle Paul sailing into the magnificent harbor, right up to a beautiful, wide, white marble walkway leading to one of the seven wonders of the world. All focus led to the temple of Diana, four times larger than the Parthenon. Inside the 127 graceful carved columns stood the vulgar idol of Diana, the many-breasted goddess of fertility. All sorts of gross immorality took place in the shadow of this temple. Not to mention, the souvenir trade thrived, mostly on the silver models of the temple and Diana.

It was to such a city that Paul came. He went first to the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months. Then to the school of Tyrannus for two years from where students took the gospel to every region of Asia (Acts 19:10). It spread enthusiastically and began the greatest season the gospel has ever had.

Paul considered this season in Ephesus his greatest opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:8-9), the high watermark of his missionary work. The people of Ephesus heard more Bible teaching from Paul than anyone, which is why he could write them about the deep truths of this epistle.

Paul also faced great opposition here because his preaching put the silversmiths out of business, causing a city-wide riot. God miraculously saved his life, which encouraged him and kept him preaching (see Acts 19:23-41). Paul loved this church in Ephesus.

A huge number of believers turned to Christ because of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. The gospel was more effective here than in any place and at any time in the history of the world. Ephesus was the church at its best, at its highest spiritual level.

Ephesian believers loved the Lord Jesus, even while living in a pagan Roman society. They modeled what it means to be drawn to Him. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Return His love, Paul encouraged them and us. Respond to Him. Say to Him, “I love You because You first loved me.” This beautiful letter to the Ephesians invites you to a closer relationship with Christ.

To look at Ephesians logically, you see two sections. The first half is doctrinal and the last half is practical. We need both. A lovely high view of our salvation (chapters 1-3) gets down where we live (chapters 4-6). In the first half we see the church as a body, a temple, and a mystery. In the second half, the church is seen as three metaphors: a new man walking through the world, the bride of Christ, and a soldier fighting an enemy.

Ephesians was written “to the saints ….” Is that you? A saint is one who has trusted Christ and is set aside for God. There are only two kinds of people today: the saints and the ain’ts. Saints should act saintly, it’s true. But we’re only saints because we belong to Him to be used of Him. Some saints are not being used of God, and that’s their fault. Saints are also believers, the “faithful in Christ Jesus.” God calls us saints and man calls us believers. A saint should be saintly and a believer should be faithful.

Paul’s greeting was “grace to you.” Grace was the typical way to greet someone in the Gentile world in Paul’s day. When you meet someone on the street, you’d say, “Charis!” which is grace in Greek. “And peace.” In a Jewish community, “Shalom!” is how people say hello.

Paul combines these two greetings and lifts them to new heights. Grace is how God saves you. You have to know this grace before you can experience His peace. Paul always puts them in that order—grace before peace. You must have charis before you can experience shalom (see Romans 5:1).

This excerpt is from the Ephesians Bible Companion. Download yours for free.

My Turn

  1. How does the image of each believer as a living stone, part of God’s building of the church, help you think about the Christian life?
  2. What can we learn from how much fruit the gospel bore in a city as entrenched in sin as Ephesus?
  3. Ephesians shows us that deep spiritual truths lead to real, practical action. What biblical truths do you struggle with putting into practice?
  4. Why does God choose to use some saints and not others?
  5. Think of the images Paul uses: a house, a body, a bride. What other pictures can you think of that represent the relationship of believers to one another and to God?